Panama Canal, Flag Riots

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Panama Canal, Flag Riots

Panama Canal Flag Riots, outbursts of violence that occurred several times during the U.S.-Panamanian dispute regarding sovereignty over the Panama Canal.

On 2 May 1958 the Panamanian Union of University Students planted Panamanian flags in the Canal Zone. When U.S. authorities turned the flags over to the Panamanian president, Ernesto de la Guardia, Jr., protests resulted in a prolonged standoff between the Panamanian National Guard and students occupying the university.

Anti-American riots broke out in Panama City on 3 November 1959 during a celebration of Panamanian independence. Mobs attacked the U.S. Embassy, ripping down its flag, and damaged the U.S. Information Agency office and several U.S.-owned businesses. The mob then marched to the Canal Zone, seeking to force entry to plant Panamanian flags in the zone. U.S. troops resisted at the zone frontier, and forty Panamanians were wounded. The United States charged that its flag had been insulted, while Panama alleged that the North Americans used excessive force and dishonored the Panamanian flag. On 17 September 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sought to defuse the issue by directing that the Panamanian flag be flown with the U.S. flag inside the zone. The privileges of U.S. residents of the zone and the Panamanian people continued to fuel sentiments reflecting the ultimate issue of sovereignty.

Riots again broke out when American students at the zone's Balboa High School refused to fly the Panamanian flag with the Stars and Stripes in violation of U.S. policy. On 9 January 1964 a Panamanian protest march into the zone resulted in a confrontation with the high school students and local residents. Rioters in the zone, Panama City, and Colón attacked U.S.-owned businesses and U.S. citizens. The Panamanian National Guard refused to intervene for several days, while U.S. troops fought snipers in pitched battles that resulted in numerous casualties on both sides. Ultimately, the National Guard restored order.

The Panamanian National Guard dispersed several efforts to organize additional protests during 1965. The situation was ameliorated through the gradual elimination of the privileged status of zonians and was ultimately resolved by the U.S. decision to relinquish control of the Canal Zone (1977).

See alsoPanama Canal .


Jules Dubois, Danger over Panama (1964).

J. Lloyd Mecham, A Survey of United States-Latin American Relations (1965).

Lawrence O. Ealy, Yanqui Politics and the Isthmian Canal (1971).

Walter La Feber, The Panama Canal: The Crisis in Historical Perspective (1978).

Additional Bibliography

McPherson, Alan. "From 'Punks' to Geopoliticians: U.S. and Panamanian Teenagers and the 1964 Canal Zone Riots." The Americas, 58:3 (January 2002): 395-418.

Mellander, Gustavo A., and Nelly Maldonado Mellander. Charles Edward Magoon, the Panama Years. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Plaza Mayor, 1999.

Méndez, Roberto N. Panamá, 9 de enero de 1964: Qué pasó y por qué. Panamá: Universidad de Panamá, 1999.

                                         Kenneth J. Grieb